Filipino researchers found microplastic, or very small plastic particles, inside the digestive systems of rabbitfish (Siganid fuscescens), which was a very popular consumed fish in the Philippines.

In the study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, about 120 rabbitfish were bought from fishermen in Dumagete, Bai, Manjuyod, and Ayungon, all major fishing areas in the province of Negros Occidental. The researchers found that nearly half of them had microplastics present in their digestive systems.

“Compared to other neighboring countries like Indonesia where they reported 100% of sampled rabbitfish had microplastics, we only observed 46.7%,” lead author Lilibeth Bucol told Mongabay in an interview.

“In terms of per fish basis, our data showed an average of 0.6 microplastic particle per fish,” she explained. “We often heard shocking news about whales or turtles with huge number of plastics in their guts and probably an equivalent to the fish.”

Bucol said the majority of plastic found was polypropylene, which is a heat-resistant plastic that is commonly used in food and beverage packaging.

Though there is still no exact data on the impact of ingesting microplastics, experts said its toxicity in the human body would most likely depend on how much is consumed.

The plastic would break down overtime that creates microplastics that is typically less than five millimeters in size, small enough that could penetrate into human tissue.

“The most surprising result of our study is that we found fish samples with high number of microplastic particles, even in rural coastal town like Manjuyod,” Bucol said. “One fish from this locality had 44 fragments of microplastic, which we identified as polypropylene. Can you imagine having a fish with small gut and having 44 plastic fragments inside the gut?”

Aside from understanding the scope of microplastics, the study also suggests its importance to help in the improvement of local and regional solid waste.

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